Summer is when the big studios bring out their biggest, most compulsively crowd-pleasing entertainments. The films of the season are less concerned with delving into the human condition than making sure you and your friends have a good time (they'd also like your money, please and thank you). Fall is when we go to the movies to be challenged, summer is when we go for instant gratification, and for my money there's no more pleasurable movie out there than the raucously entertaining "Magic Mike XXL."
The first "Magic Mike" was a relatively serious, recession-era fable smuggled inside a leopard-print banana hammock. Director Steven Soderbergh lent that film more depth than anyone expected (or, arguably, wanted) from a movie with a sizeable portion of its budget earmarked for thongs. For its sequel, "Magic Mike XXL," Soderbergh has handed over directing duties to his longtime A.D., Gregory Jacobs, (though he's still on board as a producer, cinematographer, and editor -- the last two under pseudonyms).
The result is a film solely concerned with pleasure, female pleasure, specifically; sorry fellas, this film could not give a f*** what you think of it. A healthy dose of gratuitous man-ass aside, your enjoyment will ultimately depend on how much of the original film you spent wishing for the plot to disappear so you could spend time hanging out with its characters.
The plot could fit on a Post-it. Having left stripping behind at the conclusion of the first film, Mike Lane (Channing Tatum) successfully started his own custom furniture business. But his dreams aren't paying the bills -- he's not even able to pay for his sole employee's health care. Mike can't resist the siren call of the old bump-and-grind, and reunites with his Kings of Tampa crew: Ken (Matt Bomer), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tarzan (Kevin Nash). Though both were major subjects in the first film, the absence of Matthew McConaughey's Dallas and Alex Pettyfer's The Kid is explained away in a few brief lines of dialogue.
Any hard feelings over Mike's desertion are worked through rather quickly -- all the better for the film to settle into its easygoing vibe. Together once again, the gang piles into a yogurt truck to drive down to Myrtle Beach for a stripper convention (by all accounts, such things actually exist). And uh, that's pretty much it. The film unfolds as a series of exuberant, escalating set pieces on the way to the big finale: The boys enter a drag club vogueing competition; visit the Georgia mansion that houses the pleasure palace operated by Rome (a beautiful and commanding Jada Pinkett Smith) where her mostly black clientele can be worshipped like queens; and stop by the home of middle-aged Southern belle Nancy (a delightful Andie Macdowell) and her sexually unfulfilled friends.
Along the way, the Kings of Tampa each discover their passion, and the inspiration it provides allows them to become better, more authentic entertainers. Or something. I dunno, there's a lot of pelvic thrusting and tearaway pants, and it's glorious.
"Magic Mike XXL" celebrates female sexuality in a way that's endearingly heartfelt. The women depicted come in every age, ethnicity, and body type, and they're all made to feel beautiful and desirable, free from any judgments. Whether or not what the film sees as sexy would translate to the real world is another question entirely -- I'm not sure every woman out there would be quite as ecstatic to be faux-ejaculated on with whipped cream as the ones depicted here. But as fantasy it works; at least it does judging by the appreciative hoots and hollers coming from the audience at my screening.
This is a film that knows exactly what it wants to do, and in terms of achieving those goals, the film is damn near perfect. With a message about doing what makes you happy and having fun doing it, you're guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face; this film wants nothing more than to please you.